Two things make this year’s Oscars ceremony worth watching: hostess Ellen DeGeneres and performer Jennifer Hudson. The rest is vanity and excess. Most of the surefire winners have already won tons of awards, from SAGs to Golden Globes to Name-Your-Hometown Critics’ Awards, while the fashion trends set by recent ceremonies have been safe and boring: Angelina Jolie seems to be over her goth-and-incest phase, Celine Dion figured out the right way to put on a Galliano pantsuit and apparently someone took away Bjork’s swan-hunting license. The only race that’s not practically set in stone is the big one — “Best Picture” — but it promises to be the most disappointing of all, no matter what wins. Indulge me, then, while I make the all-too-easy predictions, and pray, for the sake of all our pulses, that I’m wrong in every case.
Nominees: “Babel,” “The Departed,” ”Letters From Iwo Jima,” ”Little Miss Sunshine,” “The Queen”
Not one of this year’s nominees deserves the title of Best Picture of 2006. The recently released “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Children of Men” ought to be going head-to-head for the title, but then again the Oscars seldom get it right (see last year’s winner, “Crash”). That said, “The Departed” probably comes closest to earning the title. Regrettably, “Little Miss Sunshine” — the critique of the American obsession with winning that is hypocritically making the biggest push for the award — will charm just enough voters into giving it the closely contested honor.
Nominees: Clint Eastwood, “Letters From Iwo Jima”; Stephen Frears, “The Queen”; Paul Greengrass, “United 93”; Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, “Babel”; Martin Scorsese, “The Departed”
At last, Martin Scorsese will have his Oscar. Expect a standing ovation, tears and headlines that read “Oscar the Grouch wins Oscar” (because of his bushy eyebrows). The only perceived threat is Eastwood, an Academy favorite and multiple winner for 2004’s “Million Dollar Baby” and 1992’s “Unforgiven,” but Dirty Harry nabbing a fifth (or possibly sixth) trophy when Scorsese has yet to score one would be a travesty only Zsa Zsa Gabor’s husband could capitalize on.
Nominees: Leonardo DiCaprio, “Blood Diamond”; Ryan Gosling, “Half Nelson”; Peter O’Toole, “Venus”; Will Smith, “The Pursuit of Happyness”; Forest Whitaker, “The Last King of Scotland”
Any of these actors, in a less competitive year, could have won, but Forest Whitaker — who’s won the SAG, the Globe and all-around underdog approval — is a lock. Leonardo DiCaprio ironically screwed himself over by delivering two strong performances this year, while Peter O’Toole may have given up his chance for a competitive award when he accepted an honorary Oscar three years ago. Every one likes being surprised, so here’s to hoping either Gosling or Smith hears his name called, but usurping “The King of Scotland” seems just too tough.
Nominees: Penelope Cruz, “Volver”; Judi Dench, “Notes on a Scandal”; Meryl Streep, “The Devil Wears Prada”; Kate Winslet, “Little Children”; Helen Mirren, “The Queen”
Helen Mirren has won nearly every major critics’ award leading up to the Oscars, so to deny her the major prize would be just plain mean, not to mention hysterically funny. C’mon, give Streep DRA ’75 her deserved third win for the delicious creation that was Miranda in “Prada.” And what’s Winslet got to do to finally win? Write a song about pimpin’?
Best Supporting Actor
Nominees: Alan Arkin, “Little Miss Sunshine”; Jackie Earle Haley, “Little Children”; Djimon Hounsou, “Blood Diamond”; Eddie Murphy, “Dreamgirls”; Mark Wahlberg, “The Departed”
Marky Mark is lucky to be nominated, though a surprise win wouldn’t disappoint anyone except the other nominees. Eddie Murphy is the favorite, but it’s difficult visualizing that golden statue in the hands of a man whose latest film was “Norbit.” Besides, if Murphy takes this category, that could mean a historical three out of four acting prizes going to African Americans also a long shot when it comes to the historically racist Academy voters. Alan Arkin is an old white fart, and the best thing about “Little Miss Sunshine” (the film dies with his character), so he’s got the best chance.
Best Supporting Actress
Nominees: Adriana Barraza, “Babel”; Cate Blanchett, “Notes on a Scandal”; Abigail Breslin, “Little Miss Sunshine”; Jennifer Hudson, “Dreamgirls”; Rinko Kikuchi, “Babel”
There’s no hope for little miss ugly Abigail Breslin. And Cate Blanchett, though splendidly sexy in “Scandal,” won in this category for “The Aviator” a couple of years back. The two little-known “Babel” stars may have stolen their respective, ill-connected scenes, but their few votes will be split between each other. That leaves Jennifer Hudson’s memorable debut in “Dreamgirls” to tower above the rest. “And I’m telling you,” I’m not going to be wrong.
Best Original Screenplay
Nominees: “Babel,” “Letters from Iwo Jima,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Pan”s Labyrinth,” “The Queen”
“Little Miss Sunshine” will need this award to solidify its “Best Picture” win, although “Pan’s Labyrinth” was the year’s most imaginative creation and should win every category it’s nominated in.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominees: “Borat,” “Children of Men,” “The Departed,” “Little Children,” “Notes on a Scandal”
“The Departed” is the clear frontrunner in this category, so don’t expect Sacha Baron Cohen to nab it for the ridiculously titled “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” (though wouldn’t it be great to hear Jennifer Lopez struggle to read the name again, like she did at the Golden Globes?)
Not that it matters, two dozen other awards in categories such as “Best Sound Mixing” and “Best Documentary: Short” will go to non-celebrity nominees, most of whom will deliver lengthy, unimportant speeches from crumpled sheaths of yellow paper. Until the Academy decides to add more categories that people actually care about, it’s up to the Ellen’s comedic prowess and Hudson’s vocal power to keep the show rolling — that is, unless there are top-secret plans for a “Best Bald Rehab Patient” honorary award.